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Review Date: Friday, November 25, 2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week a very eclectic range of comics on the new issues shelves right now. So let's see what these wide-ranging genre comics are all about:

Avengers Origins: Vision (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel: Writers
Stephane Perger: Art
As readers of last week's Bongo Congo reviews know, I reviewed the previous Avengers Origins title which featured a re-telling of the origin of original Avengers team members Ant-Man and The Wasp. The latest issue in this series presents a re-telling of the Silver Age origin of Avengers android team member the Vision. This issue is co-written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, with art by Stephane Perger.

The storyline in this origin re-telling combines the traditional 1960's-era story of the Vision's origin with some fresh plot details. We learn anew how the artificial man was created by the Avengers robot enemy Ultron-5 (himself a creation of Hank Pym/Ant-Man) to kill the superhero team. In the midst of battle, the Vision is touched by the humanity of our heroes and makes a fateful choice to change sides, allying with the teammates and defeating his own creator. After the battle, the Vision begins his soul-searching about his own true nature and the meaning of artifical-versus-natural life, taking the first step along this past of self-discovery by accepting the Avengers invitation to become a team member.

For the second issue in a row, Marvel's Avengers Origins title has managed to re-tell a well-known (and almost well-worn) origins tale in an entertaining new manner that breathes fresh life into the often-presented story details. Three elements combine here to make this issue a worthwhile read. The first is another excellent visual presentation from artist Stephane Perger. Second is an 18-page long battle scene that dominates the issue. The action is cinematic in style and combines with a narrative that both flows the storyline and re-introduces the powers and background of each Avenger, adding a lot of richness to the story presentation. And third but hardly least is the co-writers decision to incorporate a sub-plot that focuses on some relationship strains between Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp, which ultimately get resolved through the battle scene.

My only minor criticism of this title is the Marvel Comics decision to present each Avengers Origins issue as a stand-alone one-shot. The concept of this title is clearly a series of origins which makes more sense to present in a regular, numbered monthly sequence. But that small formatting point aside, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this very creative and highly entertaining new superhero origins series from Marvel Comics.

Steampunk Fairy Tales #1
Publisher: Antarctic Press
Fred Perry, Rod Espinosa & Kelsey Shannon: Stories & Art
Adding to its various Steampunk titles, Antarctic Press has just published issue #1 of a Steampunk Fairy Tales comic book series. For the uninitiated, Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction/fantasy in which a lot of Victorian science fiction premises are presented, using 19th century technology (i.e., steam engines) combined with future technical advances with a Victorian flair, such as advanced analog devices or futuristic technology wedded to old-fashioned power sources such as (of course!) steam. There's a lot of fun sci-fi/fantasy steampunk fiction out there and, of course, a subgenre of comics devoted to steampunk. This new title presents two steampunk tales by the creative team of Fred Perry, Rod Espinosa and Kelsey Shannon.

The first story is entitled "The Fairyland Steampocalypse." Although its set in Victorian 1899, its essentially a recreation of a major World War I battle scene using well-known fairytale characters in the standard military setting. Thus, we have Cinderella leading a platoon of armored personnel pumpkin vehicles into battle, while Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and other characters lead their fairy kingdom troops in slugging it out in the trench warfare of World War I. All sorts of fairytale techno gets blended into the steampunk technology, including poisoned apples and firebreathing dragons.

Our second story is a retelling of the well-known Cinderella fairytale; the plot is very faithful to the original story, with very meticulous steampunk technology at every step of the tale. For instance, Cinderella manages to carry the burden of waiting hand-and-foot on her evil family by using steampunk mechanisms to complete all of her household chores. Without being a detail spoiler, there's a surprise ending to the tale, in which Cinderella still gets her Prince Charming but in an unexpected and entertaining manner.

This is a very worthwhile and entertaining new comic book title for hard core steampunk fans and general comic book readers, alike. The black-and-white artwork of both stories works well here in conveying the old-fashioned world of both tales, layered with its Victorian gizmo ideas of how steam technology would advance the world of fairy tales. There's a fun layer of tongue-in-cheek humor in the Steampocalypse story that makes it worth re-reading the tale to catch all of the goofy details. A major hats-off is due to the creative team for adding two fresh insights to the famous Cinderella story. The first, of course, is adding really fun details of steampunk techno to every step of the story. The second is that surprise ending, which still gives us the expected happy conclusion but with a very fresh twist. So a major thumbs-up positive recommendation to take a step into the exciting and entertaining world of Steampunk science fiction/fantasy with a read of this excellent comic book example of the genre.

Cold War #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
John Byrne: Writer & Artist
Ronda Pattison: Colors
IDW Publishing has produced the first two issues of a new comic book spy thriller entitled Cold War. I decided to review issue #1 to get a feel for this title from the very start. The sub-title of Cold War is "The Michael Swann Dossier" and follows the Cold War era, John Bond-style spy adventures of British spy Michael Swann. This comic is the creation of veteran writer/artist John Byrne, with colors by Rhonda Pattison.

Issue #1 is the first segment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Damocles Contract." The kick-off story segment unfolds in two parts. Part one establishes the spy personality of Michael Swann, beginning with a wordless, 11-page story segment in which Swann successfully carries-out a mission to assassinate an East German army general in East Berlin and escape to safety. The second half of the the issue #1 plotline is set two years later, as Swann is assigned to infiltrate a group of British rocket scientists and determine which one is considering defection to the Soviet Union. By issues end, he's been introduced to the team of scientists and support staff, leaving the reader with a good idea of who's considering defection and why.

This is one lame failure of a spy thriller comic, for a few basic reasons. First, Byrne's art and story quality are both very weak and flat. Its just plain uncomfortable to see such a stale effort produced late in the career of one of the most accomplished late-20th century American comic creators. The sketchy quality of the artwork is so inconsistent that the various character's facial styles actually change between panels. Its unfortunately amazing that this comic's editor also allowed Byrne to kick-off the issue with that wordless 11-page scene of Swann killing his assassination target and escaping Eate Berlin. This is a throwaway scene that should consist of one or two pages, but instead sloppily gives us a half issue's worth of narrative nothingness. Throw some cardboard-stiff dialogue late in the comic book into the mix and the overall result is a very boring and poor quality comic book. So a thumbs-down recommendation to skip this low grade effort at producing a James Bond-style spy thriller comic book.

Jack Avarice Is The Courier #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Chris Madden: Writer, Artist & Colors
Also on the new issues shelves from IDW Publishing right now is another new spy thriller comic book entitled Jack Avarice Is The Courier. This comic book is the creation of Chris Madden, who handles all writing art and coloring for the title by himself. This is a five-issue mini-series, with all issues scheduled to be published weekly starting November 2 through the end of this month.

The overall multi-issue story is entitled "Kill The Messenger" and interweaves two connected sub-plots. In the first, a very suave, James Bond-style spy named The Fox has a very fast action spy adventure in modern-day Cuba. The second sub-plot focuses on our hero Jack Avarice, who in issue #1 is actually anything but a hero. Jack's a self-described "drunken loser extraordinaire," boozing his days away in a sunny, happy bar on a beach in Hawaii. Jack's scenes in which he expresses to his drinking buddy his strong desire for a more meaningful life of accomplishment are interspersed with The Fox completing his Cuba mission and hightailing it to Hawaii. Both plotlines come together very dramatically, as The Fox ends up getting killed in Jack's bar and imparting his mission to our sudden hero wannabe.

All I can say is thank God I randomly picked this comic to review this week, as a successful IDW Publishing counterbalance to the Cold War piece of junk reviewed above. Hats-off to comics creator Chris Madden for treating readers to a well-paced, well-drawn and funny/serious mix of spy thriller entertainment. Everything works here, from the visual style to the action adventure to the very creative idea of Jack unexpectedly being thrown into the spy world. In ways, the atmosphere of this comic resembles the story concept of the popular television series spy spoof "Chuck." I also enjoyed a small and funny sub-plot in which The Fox takes time-out to romance a Cuban femme fatale assassin, with whom he apparently has a longtime love/hate relationship.

IDW Publishing is batting .500 this week with its two spy thriller comic book titles. So an enthusiastic review thumbs-up to take advantage of this quality split and enjoy the kick-off issue of this new Jack Avarice Is The Courier title.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to correctly tell us what is the most popular consumed type of fruit on Earth. An earlier contest revealed that the banana is the most popular fruit in the U.S., but for this contest we've gone global! And the winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who correctly tells us that the mango is the most popular fruit on the planet. I myself am allergic to mangos, leaving all the more mangos for the rest of you! Congratulations to David, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

Its been awhile since we've held a comic book-related contest, so let's go back to our roots this week with a comics contest challenge. We've enjoyed revisiting the origins of the Avengers in our two recent Avengers Origins reviews, which got us thinking about how so many superheros have come and gone over the years in the ranks of Marvel's premier action team. So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and pitch to us who your favorite Avenger team member of all time is, and why you elevate him/her/it to favorite status. It could be a classic Silver Age member, someone who's come and gone over the years, a relative newbie member, etc. There's a first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment at stake, so e-mail us before Wednesday, December 7 and you could be our latest contest winner!!!

That's all for now, so have a great post-Thanksgiving, Holiday Shopping season and comic book reading week and see you again on December 9 Here In Bongo Congo!
 
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